Sallyland Fundamentalists

During the time that I spent in Jerusalem, St. Catherine’s Monastery was a regular destination for the classes that I taught.  We took a chartered bus to Sharm el Shekh, crossed through the border control, and on the other side met Bedouin who drove us across the trackless expanse to the southern tip of the Sinai Desert.  There we visited the monastery; climbed Mount Sinai at three in the morning; and celebrated Eucharist on the way back down.  The return trip to Jerusalem, like the one on our way down, was a long one and it required an overnight stop.

It will sound strange, but our favorite respite from the trip was a small motel called “Sallyland,” located on the Gulf of Aqaba.  The owner was from Chicago and had named the establishment after his wife, Sally.

When we arrived the first time the owner apologized repeatedly for the absence of TVs and mini-bars in the rooms.  We didn’t miss either one.  Frankly, we were thankful for beds and clean sheets.  But the apology struck me as odd.  So I finally asked why, if he felt badly about it, the rooms didn’t have both.

“We did, at one time,” he explained, “but fundamentalist Muslims from Cairo would hide out here for days on end, drinking heavily and watching television with the volume turned all the way up.  It disturbed our other guests and eventually drove them off.  So we took both the bars and the TVs out of the rooms.”

It was one of many experiences over the years that have taught me these truths:

  • There is no worldview or religion without its fundamentalists.

  • There is no fundamentalism without hypocrisy.

  • And every creed and conviction has its fundamentalists and hypocrites.

Fundamentalism is not the product of a single religion or worldview.  It is one of two poles.  A place where opinion and passion constellates around a distilled and oversimplified version of a creed — just as the same passion and opinion constellates around its rejection at the other end of the spectrum.

  • Muslims at Sallyland —
  • Christopher Hitchens, fundamentalist to atheists —
  • Jerry Falwell, fundamentalist Christian —

Name a religion, life philosophy, or political point of view and you will find fundamentalists left and right.  People are drawn to it or repelled by it.  For some it constitutes the purest expression of a tradition, for others it represents the best reason for rejecting it.

The troubling truth is that those who connect with a faith in ways that are passionate, without being fundamentalist, are few and far between.   Passion too often resides at the extremes.  Far too many people who lived in the middle are simply disaffected.  But it is that passionate balance that is needed.

Find it.

Nurture it.

Live from it.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.


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